Logos these days aren’t what they used to be. Once the cornerstone of a company’s brand, the modern logo is just one of many elements in the multifaceted system that makes up a brand’s visual identity. That identity should be flexible and work symbiotically with the brand’s non-visual elements like positioning, promise and purpose.
The hard truth is, logos themselves are overrated. Most don’t actually say anything on their own, out of context. While they are still important for brand awareness, discovery, and recognition, a logo will never be able to tell your audience who your brand is or what it believes. The best they can be is symbols of these things, and only after considerable time and money has been spent to inject them with significance.
Your logo is not your brand and your brand is not your logo. Not by a long shot. Brands today are multifaceted entities comprising identity as well as experience. All the design skill in the world can’t create a logo that will convince your customers that your product or service is great if experience proves otherwise.
So, what is the future of the logo? What will an effective brand identity look like in the years and decades to come? The changing face of today’s marketing landscape certainly doesn’t mean that it’s curtains for the logo as we know it. It only means that new possibilities are on the horizon.
Dynamic Instead of Static
Logos today are no longer limited to a singular or static iteration. Dynamic logos use multiple iterations of a mark—or series of marks—to communicate various aspects of a brand like positioning and personality. Sometimes this means a logo that changes with each viewing, sometimes it means a singular mark impregnated with different imagery depending on the context.
From the first widely popular dynamic logo—the MTV mark of the 1980s containing changing, often animated, content—to everyday modern examples like Google Doodles, and everything in between, including high-minded brands like the Whitney and MIT Media Lab, dynamic logos have slowly but surely become part of the cultural zeitgeist. To the modern consumer they are a perfectly natural evolution of the constantly shifting media landscape that comprises everyday life.
Customers are no longer most likely to engage with a brand in a brick-and-mortar retail experience. Traditional advertising channels like television, print and radio have been usurped by digital applications like email signatures, social media avatars, and app icons. In fact, because our media landscape is increasingly digital-only, logos can be designed with movement or change as an intrinsic feature. Movement itself can now be seen as an ownable, differentiating aspect of identity, just like a brand’s colors or typeface.
In today’s world, consumer experience exists across touchpoints, and identity should as well. The identities of tomorrow will be multi-sensory and interactive. Don’t get us wrong, static logos aren’t going anywhere, but collaboration and response between touchpoints mean that identities have the potential to be dynamic like never before. With dynamic logos, context (not content) is king.
Experiential Instead of Signifying
Design used to provide brands signifiers to deliver one-way messages to their customers. Nowadays, the most successful brands use experience to inspire and orient conversations. For the brands of tomorrow, experience will be immeasurably more important than identity as they look to remain focused, recognizable and relevant.
In 2017, Signs.com asked 150 Americans to draw ten famous logos from memory. How many were able to accurately recreate the world’s top identities? Try 16 percent. We’re talking about logos that are nearly ubiquitous, buoyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in annual advertising. And while only half of people could accurately tell you whether the Starbucks mermaid is wearing a crown (she is), all of those people could probably tell you what ordering their favorite drink at Starbucks feels like.
Brand experiences reinforce brand values both during and well beyond point-of-service interactions. Experiences straddle the gap between products and promises, so that when you have a negative experience with a brand and later see an ad claiming that brand is customer-focused, the dissonance is grating. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes story as a “vivid and continuous dream.” Stories put us in a state of “a willing suspension of disbelief.” As consumers, we are more than willing to suspend disbelief for a compelling brand narrative. And there is nothing like a bad brand experience to snap us back to reality.
As Danny Kahneman showed in his Nobel Prize-winning work on behavioral economics, our experiencing self is different than our remembering self. We don’t remember experiences, but rather highly abridged stories of our memories of experiences. We tend to especially remember the parts at the peak and the end of those experiences. Mostly we have boring, run-of-the-mill customer experiences that we forget. Their ordinariness is precisely why they’re so susceptible to being shaped by small gestures or big branding ideas.
The stories we tell ourselves about our remembered experiences can be shaped even after the fact because the very act of recalling a memory changes the memory itself. That’s why social media is so effective at amplifying the impact of memorable experiences. Kahneman’s final point is that it is the remembering self that makes the decisions. Deliver a positive brand experience that is subsequently amplified by social media and your customers are likely to opt for your brand in the future.
You don’t need your customer to draw a logo from memory, you want them to see it and be reminded of positive brand experiences, the memories of which will drive purchase decisions and stoke brand loyalty. You can shape the story of the memory by understanding the importance of experience.
Evolving Instead of Eternal
Logos can no longer be expected to stand the test of time. Not like they used to anyway. The pace of change in the marketplace grows with every passing year. Where brands could once expect their identities to last for generations, these days they are lucky if they remain relevant for a decade.
The NBA logo created by Alan Siegel in 1969 was able to capture the essence of the game in a simple yet powerful image. Inspired by All-Star Jerry West, the timelessness of the mark became the identity par excellence in all of sports. After a minor refresh in 2017, it remains as effective at evoking the spirit of basketball as it did almost 50 years ago.
Uber, by contrast, redesigned its logo in 2016—just four short years after the brand launched—before redesigning it again in 2018. In six years the company has transformed from a rideshare services to a worldwide transportation network. The initial rebrand was as much about the wholesale evolution of a brand as the more recent one was about a brand trying to shake off a public relations crisis. The dynamic nature of today’s marketplace wears many faces.
The brand identity of the future will need to be fluid, not fixed. Design rules once ensured everyone knew exactly what to do in every situation. Today, forward-looking brands live by overarching principles and guidelines that ensure consistency while allowing for maximum flexibility. It’s important to understand that you must relinquish some control of your brand in order to be agile. Successful brands adapt as their business models and customer experiences evolve.
Simple Instead of Complicated
If all of this sounds complicated, it isn’t. Or it doesn’t have to be. Too often, the dynamic nature of the media landscape makes people think that logos need to be overly complicated. Too many business owners believe a logo must represent everything their company has to offer. The truth is, the more you ask of a logo the less effective it will be. Logos can only realistically be expected to represent a single facet of your brand.
It isn’t just that logos are by their very nature limited in what they can express. It’s that simpler logos are actually more effective. Simple logos are instantly recognizable in a way that complicated designs are not. Think of how many logos you see over the course of a given day. The vast majority of them you see in just a flash—in the supermarket, on the highway, or in your social media feed. The less information in any given logo, the more likely your brain is to be able to process and remember it.
Research has shown customers are more likely to gravitate towards simple design when selecting a product. Simple designs are able to convey clear, concise, and uncomplicated messages. The very process by which our brains interpret visual stimuli is built to prioritize uncomplicated information. The simpler the logo the stronger the association your brand will have with whichever color or shape you decide to make your own.
Simple designs are also more versatile and can be scaled to fit any size imaginable. And finally, simple designs are simply more memorable. The more complicated a piece of information is, the more difficult it is to remember.
We still need logos, but it’s important to realize that these days your logo is not the foundation of your brand. Logos are no longer singular and emblematic, but instead multifaceted and dynamic. Your logo should be a critical component to a larger visual identity system that is empowered by the everchanging, increasingly digital-only media landscape.
Logos in 2018 and beyond have the power to be nuanced systems full of rich, fluid significance. But that doesn’t mean they need to be overly complicated. Your logo should be a simple, empty vessel into which you can pour the meaning of your brand.
At the end of the day, experience will always be more important than identity. Take some of the onus off of your logo and instead focus on delivering a great brand experience. Experience is what turns customers into loyal and vocal brand advocates. Remove your logo from your product, your website, your app, and your ads, and your customers should still know it’s you.